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The Use of Symbolic Solvers in Mechanical Engineering Education

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Computing in the classroom

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1242.1 - 23.1242.15



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Paper Authors


B. K. Hodge Mississippi State University

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B. K. Hodge is Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Mississippi State University (MSU). Prior to retirement, he served as the TVA Professor of Energy Systems and the Environment and was a Giles Distinguished Professor and a Grisham Master Teacher. Since retirement, he has continued to be involved in teaching and research at MSU. Hodge has served as President of the Southeastern Section of the ASEE and Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Division of the ASEE. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

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Rogelio Luck Mississippi State University

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The Use of Symbolic Solvers in Mechanical Engineering EducationAbstract –There are many books and pedagogical papers on how to use mathematical CADprograms to perform numerical calculations for engineering problems. In contrast to numericalcalculations, this paper explores the use of symbolic solvers for mechanical engineeringproblems and investigates the pedagogical inferences of using these solvers in mechanicalengineering education. Classroom explanations and homework for engineering coursessometimes require tedious symbolic manipulations of equations or systems of equations,differentiation of complex functions, and evaluation of integral expressions. The use ofcomputational software systems, such as Mathcad, Mathematica, Maple, and Macsyma, capableof symbolic manipulations, allows the student to focus more on the engineering aspects of aproblem than on performing the symbolic manipulations. With less time spent on evaluatingintegrals, performing complex differentiations, and solving systems of equations, more time isavailable for students to engage in higher-level synthesis and understanding. Several examplesare presented in this paper to show how symbolic manipulation software can be successfullyemployed in the classroom and in homework. The examples are taken from both undergraduateand graduate courses. Although the examples in this paper are appropriate for mechanicalengineering, the paradigm is transferable to any engineering discipline in which problemformulations result in systems of complex equations whose solutions require tedious (and errorprone) manipulations.

Hodge, B. K., & Luck, R. (2013, June), The Use of Symbolic Solvers in Mechanical Engineering Education Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22627

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